Click for next page ( 144


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 143
CHAPTER Implications for Academic Institutions The university is central and dominant in the whole postdoctoral picture. Not only does it produce all of those who become postdoctorals and serve as host to most of the participants, but it is the major employer of most of the former postdoctorals. The impact of postdoctoral edu- cation on the universities is a pervasive one, affecting students, faculty, and administration. On the other hand, universities participate unevenly in their relationship to postdoctorals. Generally speaking, the higher the reputation of the institution,- the greater its involvement with the production, the hosting, and the recruit- ment for faculty positions of postdoctorals. As a consequence, it is difficult to typify the situation and to talk of "impact" in a singular sense. For many deans, faculty members, and students, acquaintanceship with postdoctoral study is by hearsay only, while for others it is a matter of daily experience. The same variability of existential knowledge can be found within a single in- stitution as one moves from department to department and from dean to dean. This unevenness of participation is illustrated for representative disciplines in Table 36. The distribution is even more skewed when one realizes that the number of institutions in each category gets larger as the reputation drops. While the top 30 schools produce 48 percent of the PhD's in physics, they produce 69 percent of the PhD's who take an immediate postdoctoral appoint- ment. Similarly, these same schools serve as hosts for 68 percent of the phys- ics postdoctorals at academic institutions. Not counting the medical schools, 143

OCR for page 143
i 1 £ £ i ° o . o r- o 2 £ d ' ' o _1 To — c ^ >. o c — '^ m V *" £3 .. s ~ iig 1 LO O CM CM O CM o 6 s £ 9 - d o 1 a c 1 'a fo is Tf in in n .- Q 0) ,.' T- CM CM ^ Q. 1- .Q ' ^ ~. iA LL i§ oo oo o a> o CM ^ c g i r^' "- '"- >" od § f 6 s •<= ,td! ^ "™« CO It o •O •3 •«• O O in r- CM CD ° ° - " £ LU ^ «- ^ "co •S 1 I 01 c 1 •s 1 II co co cp r^ cD n ^ co S CM i- ^ a. H B •- cN E 36 Participation i w "S «. 5 o "S i- 1 1 1 es of Participatioc doctoral Oducation LiiLflt 11 B^i'i'l'iM ^i —i S S UJcljcgcgcg-cg OcJ CO go? I ? B S ? 5 OCR for page 143
q o' «- o d in «- o CM CO oq CD CSI O) CM W 8 ill . § 3S R « If B g ft £ "» o -§ o g> ° S g «-> *« *J •— O ~ ._i ti IAI — •* « o «r § •I o «I Ovg. co. of postdocts per | .1 a dept: with postdocts iD ^ COCIOO CCIONCOC a s a t> havicg postdocts •t r^ C Q a. "o to | CL 8 i •5 i K i 5 1 & CL CL S o 145

OCR for page 143
146 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS the average number of postdoctorals from all fields per school in the ten lead- ing institutions is 225, while the same figure for the 180 schools designated as developing institutions is only 4.6. Clearly the degree of institutional concern with postdoctorals can be expected to be much higher for those institutions with significant numbers of postdoctorals. In the academic world then, there are two major features of postdoctoral activity. It is concentrated in a relatively few institutions and, within the insti- tutions, it is mainly a departmental concern. Among those institutions that have sizable numbers of postdoctorals, the central administration performs essentially a "housekeeping" function. The demand for academic and research space by departments with many postdoctorals causes administrative person- nel to become aware of the postdoctoral. Similarly, there is a suspicion, sel- dom backed by hard evidence, that the postdoctorals are costing the univer- sities money, especially when they are not hired under faculty grants and con- tracts (see Chapter 9). Few universities have gathered any statistics, however, and only a few have made any concerted effort to maintain central surveil- lance over the postdoctoral activity on campus. Typical of the leadership at most postdoctoral host institutions was a grad- uate dean of a university in the Northwest who mentioned several growing areas of concern to the administration. Among these were the selection proc- ess and the variation of stipends paid postdoctorals. He felt that the time was ripe for some formalization of departmental and institutional practices. His motivation was more pragmatic than philosophical; such a formalization was to be a consequence of the exhaustion of resources rather than an indication that there was an academic mission to be fulfilled. In a poll of administrators at 140 universities, only three said that their institution actively promoted postdoctoral work and only about 10 percent suggested that there was considerable control by the central administration over postdoctoral appointments. The dean at a distinguished eastern univer- sity exercising considerable control, relatively speaking, over its postdoctoral appointments wrote as follows: The extent of the review of postdoctoral fellows within individual departments varies. The principal responsibility lies with the individual faculty member who sponsors the postdoctoral fellow. . . . The department chairman is required to approve any recom- mendations for a postdoctoral fellow and in some departments he takes his responsibility quite seriously. In other departments, I'm sure, the process is routine. Finally the Dean of the Graduate School has to approve each appointment and each initial appointment must be accompanied by two letters of evaluation, including a letter from the supervisor of the dissertation, unless the fellow has won a national competitive postdoctoral fellow- ship. In this case we generally accept the fact of selection by a national committee as warrant of his credentials. The Dean has the right to refuse to appoint; but he seldom exercises this right. He has, however, raised questions of the quality of the proposed appointees.

OCR for page 143
147 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS The dean of another prominent eastern institution had this to say: All postdoctoral and research associates have appointments that are approved by1 the Academic Council, the same body which approves all other faculty appointments. A curriculum vitae is submitted along with each recommendation and occasionally there is some discussion. Rarely, however, is a recommendation disapproved. Yet the existence of the mechanism is in itself a good control, probably the only one which would work. At a west coast institution of the first rank the appointment procedure is described as follows: "Each postdoctoral fellow must have a faculty appoint- ment that is carefully reviewed even if no salary is involved. We have three levels of appointment: research fellow, senior research fellow, and research associate. These have faculty rank as listed in our catalogue just below assistant professor, associate professor, and professor, respectively." One division of this institution has adopted rather stringent nomination procedures for postdoc- torals. The faculty member who is to serve as mentor submits to the chairman a full dossier on the proposed candidate. The chairman reviews the dossier and, if he finds no critical problem, sends a memorandum to the department an- nouncing that a person has been nominated and inviting the faculty to exam- ine the dossier in his office. If no objection is raised, the appointment is proc- essed through the central administration. If there is an objection, either by the chairman or by another faculty member, the question is generally talked out and resolved internally without making an issue of it. The justification given by the chairman for this rather elaborate screening is that they want to accept only those candidates they will be able to recommend highly on completion of their postdoctoral work. But the situation at other prominent institutions is more typical. A dean at a major university in the Midwest wrote: "We have almost no controls. ... Without question we and other universities should have controls that fit our policies.... The variation in qualifications of postdoctorals in a university like this one is far greater than the variation in credentials of either undergrad- uate or graduate students." Not only is there little central control over the quality of postdoctorals, but there is also little oversight with regard to num- bers and treatment of postdoctorals. The spokesman for a major west coast university wrote: "It is a simple fact that we have no adequate control over the number or the use of postdoctoral fellows. What is needed is a recognition that they are now a fundamental part of the university community and that our procedures have to be developed to include them just as they once had to be strengthened to permit more adequate control of graduate students." Not all administrators feel this way. Many are satisfied that the present laissez-faire approach is best. This point of view was expressed by a spokes- man for a midwestern university: "The professors in a department are the only persons qualified to judge the qualifications of the postdoctoral candi-

OCR for page 143
148 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS date. They should be the ones to select the candidates in view of the personal relationships involved. Present departmental controls are adequate. Institution- wide controls should be avoided." The spokesman for another major midwest- ern university said: "The appointment of postdoctoral s is initiated at the departmental level. I would not recommend changes. The academic standards of a given department are reviewed at the graduate and undergraduate level and there is a high correlation between the standards applied at these levels and at the postdoctoral level." A respondent at a distinguished eastern uni- versity concluded: "Our control is the good sense of the individual faculty member. Since the postdoctoral fellow ... is usually recommended through the intimate and friendly relations between two faculty members, the selec- tion process is probably as good as it can be." There is the same general lack of anxiety over other questions that might be raised about the place of the postdoctoral in the academic community. Although a few administrators are aware of potential dangers, even fewer recommend taking any steps to mitigate them. Whether the issue is the con- tribution of postdoctorals to research or teaching, the competition with grad- uate students for space and faculty time, the adequacy of graduate programs, or the cost of postdoctoral activity to the university, most administrators be- lieve either that what has evolved is adequate or that any steps to control or regulate the activity would do more harm than good. Such attitudes find strong support from the faculty, who currently have a relatively free hand and who doubt that institutional participation in the postdoctoral process can add anything positive. They have no desire to have the institutional invisibility of the postdoctoral removed at the expense of faculty initiative and independ- ence. The chemistry chairman of a southern unviersity spoke for many of his faculty colleagues across the country when he stated that "the university as such does not have postdoctorals nor a policy toward postdoctorals. Indi- vidual faculty mentors have both." If a postdoctoral were analogous to a faculty member's private library, such a statement might go unchallenged; but the postdoctoral does not exist on an academic shelf. He has a number of points of contact with students, with other faculty, and with the administration that is responsible for providing the space he occupies. In a department where the resources, both human and material, are underutilized, the addition of postdoctorals may not infringe on the activi- ties of others. This situation (which describes many institutions) permits the indifference of the administration and the independence of the faculty. In an institution that is already crowded or at one that is being created de novo, there is a need to develop a rationale for postdoctoral study and a set of poli- cies to implement it. In a number of states, the acquisition of additional facilities from state budget committees or from legislatures requires justification in terms of en-

OCR for page 143
149 EFFECT ON THE DEPARTMENT rollment. In California, for example, the planning for new buildings follows a formula that allots so many square feet for each faculty member, for each undergraduate, and for each graduate student. No space is permitted under the formula for postdoctorals. This does not mean that, after the space has been awarded, the internal division of that space cannot be made with post- doctorals in mind, but simply that the state does not recognize postdoctorals as having a legitimate claim on state resources with regard to space. The ad- ministration cannot educate the state until an institutional rationale is devel- oped in which postdoctoral education takes its place within the complex milieu that is a modern university. In developing that rationale the goals of the individual university will have to be taken into account. Moreover, the institution will have to consider the function and the impact of postdoctoral activity. In Chapter 4 we examined the diversity of the postdoctoral population and the motivations of the post- doctorals themselves. In Chapter 5 we described the benefits to the individual as well as some of his problems. We now examine the nature of postdoctoral activity within the university and its impact on students, on faculty, and on research. Effect on the Department Since the postdoctoral makes his presence felt through the department, the degree of his impact depends on his relative number and quality compared to the other components in the department. The level of educational effort in representative fields as a function of the reputation of the school is shown in Figure 12. Since there are a number of schools not involved in research, we shall restrict ourselves in the description of the makeup of departments to those that have graduate programs, whether or not they have postdoctorals. By almost any measure there is a strong correlation between reputation and department size. Whether one counts the full-time graduate students, full-time faculty, or postdoctorals, the average numbers of each tend to decrease as one goes down in reputation. There are, of course, excellent small departments and mediocre large ones, but these are likely to be the exception. What is more relevant to our investigation of postdoctorals is that pertinent ratios also change uniformly with reputation. The chairman of the chemistry department of a prestigious eastern univer- sity testified to the importance of having postdoctorals in a graduate depart- ment. He suggested that fewer than one postdoctoral to every ten graduate students renders the impact of postdoctorals on the department negligible. However, he felt that the ratio in his own department of one postdoctoral

OCR for page 143
150 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS 1 8- .2 S > < 5 3 «^ f f el £ ^ 2 5 5? 5 8 5 S!2 Q Ok 2 z o * 2 £ s a £XS 8g(o 8"(/> f iill^li 8 -S I i 1 £ i III!! If r I ! 8 f E QCuujuatDiu £ 0 u! (A a

OCR for page 143
151 EFFECT ON THE DEPARTMENT IliN11. ll 5 8 o CM CD - " " e .1 £ t> (O I £ O 2 .2 o O « O (O § I .2 ? CD UJ > £ & S 8 UJ V) e UJ I CO CO UJ o § LU Q

OCR for page 143
152 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS for every two graduate students seemed to be somewhat larger than neces- sary. We shall return later to the reasons why graduate departments, qua de- partments, desire postdoctorals, but the chairman's suggested density is a useful one for the present. If we examine Table 37, which displays the data on departmental size and composition, we see that all of those departments of chemistry and the basic medical sciences that have postdoctorals have fewer than ten graduate students per postdoctoral, with the density of postdoctorals increasing with increasing reputation. At the other end of the scale are engi- neering, the social sciences, and geology (except at the ten leading institutions), where the impact of postdoctorals is small. Physics and biology occupy an intermediate position. With few exceptions, departments without postdoctorals tend to have fewer graduate students and faculty than departments with postdoctorals. Moreover, they tend to have fewer graduate students per faculty member. This statistic bears out the contention of many respondents that the presence of postdoctorals permits the training of more graduate students. The conjec- tured competition between graduate'students and postdoctorals for faculty time and departmental space does not seem to occur; or, if it does, it occurs within institutions already exceeding most other institutions in graduate student/faculty ratios. The relation of postdoctorals to the production of master's degrees and doctorates is somewhat less neat (see Table 38). Although there is a definite correlation between the number of graduates per faculty member at both levels (especially at the PhD level) and the reputation of the school, there is not the clean distinction between institutions with postdoctorals and those without. Perhaps one can discern in the data a tendency of schools without postdoctorals to concentrate more on master's level work, while those with postdoctorals seem to be more involved with doctoral programs.1 One of the most interesting correlations between graduate study and post- doctoral study is demonstrated in Table 39. Probably because of the subfields represented in departments with postdoctorals in contrast to those research areas in departments without postdoctorals, the immediate next activities of new PhD's are strikingly different, depending on the presence or absence of postdoctorals. In particular, departments with postdoctorals are much more likely to send their graduates on to postdoctoral appointments than the other departments and less likely to send them to industry or directly into an aca- demic post. We shall discuss the implications of this effect further when we examine the impact of postdoctoral education on the nonacademic employers 1 Engineering is unique among the fields shown in attributing professional status to the baccalaureate degree. The master.s degree is therefore a postprofessional degree. At some institutions the engineering program is a 5-year program ending with the master's degree.

OCR for page 143
153 EFFECT ON THE DEPARTMENT of doctoral recipients. For the moment it is clear that graduate study in the presence of postdoctorals results in significantly more graduates who take post- doctoral appointments. As indicated earlier, it also results in more graduates. One of the more mechanical aspects of the impact of postdoctoral study on the academic institution is the space required for the postdoctoral and the time that a faculty member spends working with him. The answer in square feet or hours per week is not as useful as the comparison of these variables for postdoctorals with those for graduate students. There is also a large depend- ence on the nature of the research even within the same department. A theo- retical physicist requires much less space than an experimental one. An experi- mental solid state man may need a smaller laboratory than an experimentalist working on an accelerator. Recognizing the importance of these differences and yet not being able to make the fine distinctions required, we present in Figure 13 the responses from the faculty with regard to the comparison be- tween postdoctorals and graduate students on time and space requirements respectively. There is surprisingly little difference among the departmental averages. To summarize the findings, a postdoctoral takes up about half as much time of the faculty as a graduate student and requires about a third more space. It is not surprising that those institutions heavily involved in postdoctoral work are also those with faculty who themselves have had postdoctoral experi- ence. Table 40 displays this effect. Only the earth sciences, where postdoctoral work is considered less essential, breaks the pattern of significant differences between schools with postdoctorals and those without. This pattern of faculty backgrounds is not likely to change if the present hiring practices at institutions continue. In Table 41 we show for several fields the distribution by previous positions of newly hired junior faculty in depart- ments having graduate programs. Except for engineering, earth sciences, and social sciences, institutions that have postdoctorals hire more of their new faculty from postdoctoral positions than from any other background. No such preference is seen for departments without postdoctorals. In fact, they tend to get their faculty straight from the PhD. Over 90 percent of the new faculty in departments with postdoctorals have the PhD degree when they join the de- partment. Departments without postdoctorals are less successful in attracting doctorate holders. Contrary to popular conception, however, departments on the whole do not hire their own postdoctorals for faculty positions. When the time comes to hire new faculty one's own postdoctorals are considered, of course, but along with other candidates outside the department, both postdoctoral and nonpostdoctoral. Only among certain of the ten leading institutions are more postdoctorals hired from within than from without. This occurs more often in physics and engineering and almost never in chemistry departments.

OCR for page 143
183 IMPLICATIONS FOR THE DISCIPLINES Should young scientists survive the pitfalls listed above and become productive researchers, they will immediately become targets for recruitment by the more prestigious schools. Under present circumstances there are more postdoctoral s than the top institutions can hire and the whole range of institutions benefit. If the opposite were true, all but the top would suffer. The present postdoc- torals are aware that most of them are going to be employed by institutions less prestigious than their postdoctoral host institution. As one put it, "I am going to be a much better faculty member at a developing institution after my postdoctoral than I would have been without it." One need not accept all of the points summarized above to agree that what one chairman at a developing institution described as a "windfall" (the release of postdoctoral s following a cutback in postdoctoral study) would likely be only a short-range benefit. The sudden flooding of the market would occur only once, and then the readjustment would take place. Even institutions that do not appoint many former postdoctorals as faculty recognize that light-load assistant professorships do not provide all of the benefits of a postdoctoral appointment. Having said all this, we must recognize that there are exceptional individuals (usually from exceptional institutions) for whom the postdoctoral experience does not seem to be necessary. One professor of physics accepted his first assistant professorship immediately after his PhD in lieu of an NSF Postdoc- toral Fellowship that he had been awarded. He obtained extramural support within a year and has had a productive career. Neither he nor his institution regrets his decision. Implications for the Disciplines In the data already presented it is apparent that large differences exist among the various fields of study. The postdoctoral situation in chemistry is very dif- ferent from that in the humanities. Engineering presents yet another picture and medicine is unique. The departments that form the educational structure for the disciplines are differentially affected by the flow of postdoctorals and by the availability of postdoctoral opportunities both for their graduates and for their faculty. What is less obvious are the reasons for these differences. There are, of course, conditions extrinsic to the disciplines. Such conditions as the level of research funding, the availability of predoctoral fellowships, and the employ- ment market for graduates depend only indirectly on the nature of the dis- ciplines in the sense that these conditions could change without altering the basic nature of the discipline. It would be an error, however, to ascribe all the

OCR for page 143
184 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS differences we have uncovered to disparate extrinsic conditions. The disciplines are also intrinsically different, Their educational goals and their research tech- niques set them apart. There are, of course, similarities across disciplines, but they must be discovered by observation and not extrapolated a priori. An example of the failure to make disciplinary distinctions is the allega- tion often made that much of postdoctoral activity (especially immediately following the doctorate) reflects a weakness in graduate education. If a man were "properly" trained at the predoctoral level, would he need further train- ing at the postdoctoral level? Has the tremendous explosion in the number of people taking graduate work led to a reduction in quality and a lowering of standards in the graduate schools? Deans tend to be more worried about this possibility than their faculty. Up to 32 percent of the graduate deans considered that the development of postdoctoral study was an indictment of graduate education.8 The faculty, whether or not they were working with postdoctorals, were satisfied that there were reasons for postdoctoral study even for those PhD's whose pre- doctoral education was excellent. When asked if the character of predoctoral training should be changed in the light of the growth of postdoctoral study, the faculty responded as follows: Predoctoral Education Predoctoral Education No Should Change Should Not Change Opinion Faculty with postdoctorals 6% 59% 35% Faculty without postdoctorals 5% 46% 49% Most deans and almost all professors see merit in postdoctoral education for the reasons given earlier. They would argue that, if graduate education has flaws, postdoctoral education is neither a cause nor an effect. The purpose of postdoctoral education is to accomplish something that graduate education never did and could not do without duplicating postdoctoral education itself. The disenchanted, however, are not persuaded. The graduate dean at a devel- oping institution in the South wrote: "The growth of postdoctoral education, in my judgment, is to a large extent a reaction to the failure of graduate edu- cation to provide sufficient opportunity for specialized research." The dean at a developing university in the Midwest was more specific in his criticism: It has been my general impression in many areas that doctoral students are frequently assigned to a segment of a problem of interest to the major adviser and, hence, serve as little more than coolie labor. As a result, they never get experience in the broad aspects It would be interesting to correlate the deans' responses with their predecanal field of study. To what degree are their attitudes shaped by their previous experience (or lack of experience) with postdoctorals?

OCR for page 143
185 IMPLICATIONS FOR THE DISCIPLINES of inquiry related to research. In many cases where they are given freedom to select a problem, they are expected to prepare specifications of a problem that could be self- contained. This procedure in and of itself is totally antithetical to research procedure. Not all of the criticism comes from developing institutions. Deans .at many institutions share in these misgivings "in part" or "to some extent." The dean at an eminent institution in the East wrote: The development of organized research means that many PhD candidates are not exposed during the predoctorate years to the threefold process of seeking out, sizing up, and cany- ing through a research project. Many of them simply carry out a project which is substan- tially defined and carefully supervised by their dissertation adviser. . . . Their PhD experi- ence is stunted. The dean at a respected institution in the West agreed: I feel, myself, that there is a very real possibility that the PhD has been downgraded in the sciences so that the dissertation has merely become an exercise in research tech- niques, not the original contribution to knowledge that has been the traditional standard and which is still, by and large, characteristic of the humanities and many of the social sciences. Without denying that some students in some departments are not receiving the kind of graduate education that might be desired, there are several points that might be made in rebuttal to those quoted above. The first is that not all PhD's, in fact not even a majority of them, take postdoctoral work. To say that in 1967 26 percent of the physics PhD's went immediately into postdoc- toral study implies also that 74 percent of the PhD's in physics in 1967 did not go into postdoctoral work. These other PhD's went to teach in colleges and universities, to do research in government and industry, and to a variety of other positions for which the employer felt that the kind of background which the PhD degree involved was the appropriate kind for the position. Each of these kinds of positions requires a different sort of person with a specific distribution of talents and motivations. If the PhD degree ever did prepare a particular kind of person for a particular kind of position, it no longer does. It would be extremely fortuitous if a single kind of predoctoral experience were appropriate for the creation of a graduate faculty member, a small col- lege professor, an industrial researcher, and a science administrator. What is more likely is that the preparation for each of these positions will involve a postdegree internship of either a formal or informal sort. With singular excep- tions, the predoctoral educational experience cannot be expected simultane- ously to prepare a finished product for all of these employers, or even any one of them. One could interpret the postdoctoral experience as that internship often necessary in some fields for the preparation of a graduate faculty mem- ber. The data support such an interpretation.

OCR for page 143
186 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS The second point in response to those who feel that postdoctoral study is a reaction to the failure of graduate education has to do with the concept of "growth." Although the last decade has seen an expansion of postdoctoral activity, by 1967 the fraction of the PhD class taking postdoctoral work was just comparable to the corresponding fraction in certain fields in the 1920's (see Fig. 1, p. 18). Since it is to this period that many critics refer as a bench mark of excellence, both for graduate education and postdoctoral study, the correlation between real or apparent weaknesses in graduate education at the present time and the "growth" of postdoctoral education seems less relevant. Finally, in those fields and subfields where the situation occurs, one must ask why faculty members urge particular thesis projects on their graduate stu- dents, thereby depriving them of the necessary experience of "seeking out, sizing up, and carrying through a research project." The answer that the pro- fessor is more interested in his own research and is looking only for contribu- tions to it is probably limited in its applicability. To blame the phenomenon on selfishness is to foreclose the possibility that in some fields the nature of the subject and the degree of conceptual sophistication required to make "an original contribution to knowledge" are such that only after the experience of an extended and directed research project is a man ready to seek out the next project. Since not everyone is going on to a research career, it need not be appropriate for everyone to have to pursue a second research topic before attaining the degree. The present practice of granting the degree after the first project and then urging only those with research aspirations to take postdoc- toral work is not only more efficient, but also does not take any longer for the participant than staying on as a predoctoral to achieve the same experience. That this is not the situation in the humanities, in the social sciences, or even in classical biology or that it once was not necessary in chemistry does not seem particularly relevant. It does not appear to be fruitful to worry whether a PhD in physics is more or less than a PhD in literature. They are not inter- changeable in any practical sense. At the risk of being somewhat repetitive, let us focus here on the disci- plines and attempt to understand the differences in the degree of their involve- ment in postdoctoral activity in terms of their intrinsic subject matter and of their peculiar educational goals and research techniques. In what follows we shall have to make generalizations about which there are many exceptions and many shades of opinions. Our purpose is not to be definitive, but merely to indicate the variations among the disciplines. One of the major ways in which the disciplines differ is the time at which the student first makes a commitment to the field. A student comes into con- tact with many fields while still in high school and enters college with at least some idea of their content and methodology. If his area of concentration is

OCR for page 143
187 IMPLICATIONS FOR THE DISCIPLINES chosen from one of these fields, he is usually able to begin his study early in his college experience. After four years of undergraduate work, the student will enter graduate school with substantial background in his field. For several fields, however, the student tends to enter the program later in his career. In psychology it will be toward the end of his undergraduate pro- gram. Biochemistry and the other basic medical sciences have almost no roots in the undergraduate program. Students who choose these fields will learn the field mainly as graduate students, with two of their four or five graduate years devoted to thesis research. Fields also differ in the rate of development. Especially in physics, chemis- try, biochemistry, and some of the biosciences, the growth of knowledge and the expansion of techniques make difficult the acquisition of the breadth of understanding necessary for fruitful research during the graduate program. While a student is working on his thesis, there is little time to keep up with developments even in contiguous areas of research. This situation in many of the sciences differs strikingly with that in the humanities and to some extent with that in the social sciences. In the humanities the pace of development of new techniques is much slower and only recently have the social sciences be- gun extensive application of mathematical methods that will probably exert pressures for postdoctoral study similar to those in the sciences. In some fields the techniques and methodologies are borrowed from other fields. Thus a biochemist must learn biological concepts, chemical approaches, and lately even physical techniques. The educational experience during the graduate program is by necessity too restricted and limited to enable a student to become proficient in all of these. A similar problem exists for psychologists, especially those whose work borders on other disciplines. These may range from sociology and anthropology to mathematics, biology, chemistry, engi- neering, business, psychiatry, or social work. Increasingly the social sciences are experiencing the same interdisciplinary development. Only postdoctoral opportunities will enable the student to develop essential proficiency levels in these ancillary subjects. The growth of team research has also had its impact on those fields where it is appropriate. Research problems in some areas are too complex and sophis- ticated to enable the lone investigator to achieve much success. Perhaps the extreme example in this regard is experimental elementary particle physics. The manpower required to operate a major multibillion volt particle accelera- tor is very large. Papers have been published with as many as thirty co-authors, each of whom has made an important contribution to the experiment. Clearly a student of this field cannot expect to experience the range of activities asso- ciated with the experiment without multiple opportunities to work in and around the apparatus. Again the graduate program is too short to permit him

OCR for page 143
188 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS all of these opportunities before he receives the doctorate. To a lesser degree team research has developed in other parts of physics and in many of the other sciences. In addition to the distinctions among the disciplines having to do with the time of entry to the field, with the rate of development of the field, with the interdisciplinary interactions of the field, and with the need for team research, there is one that is more subtle. Although difficult to quantify, this distinction is as important as the rest. Fields differ in the facility with which the edges of knowledge are perceived. Before a student can begin to contribute to research he must not only be able to distinguish between what is already understood and what is as yet not known, but he must also appreciate what constitutes a contribution to knowledge as opposed to an exercise in technique. In fields like theoretical physics a student may not arrive at this point until after his thesis. In fields like literature he may have grasped the essentials in his first year in graduate school. Other fields fall somewhere between these two. As one examines each field in the light of these qualities, it is possible to understand why postdoctoral work has grown in some fields and not in others. The extrinsic conditions such as predoctoral support possibilities, of course, play a role as well. There is a high correlation (in the sciences) between the availability of predoctoral support in a field and the fraction of PhD's taking an immediate postdoctoral experience. Since there is also a relationship be- tween the shortness of the baccalaureate-to-PhD time lapse and the availability of predoctoral support, the question is raised whether recent efforts to reduce the time lapse in the humanities will increase the demand for postdoctoral work. Even within fields more heavily supported at the predoctoral level there are differences. Both physics and chemistry are comparable in the support possi- bilities available to graduate students. Yet physics PhD's take almost a year longer on the average to earn their doctorate than the chemists.9 Apparently growing out of their earlier close association with industry, the chemistry de- partments consciously move their students through the doctoral program with more speed. The postdoctoral appointment is then used to supply whatever might be missing in the graduate experience for those who seek academic careers. Some physicists argue that similar approaches are possible in physics. Some science fields do not fit the pattern. In particular, mathematics and, to a lesser degree, engineering have moderately short baccalaureate-to-PhD time lapses and yet do not participate to a great extent in postdoctoral activity. Engineering differs from most scientific disciplines in that the bachelor's de- 9National Academy of Sciences, Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities, Publ. 1489, Washington, D.C., 1967.

OCR for page 143
189 IMPLICATIONS FOR THE DISCIPLINES gree has been the professional degree. Baccalaureates who could benefit from graduate work are often drawn into industrial work by recruiters. Not until recently has graduate work become prominent. In 1940, only 108 doctorates in engineering were awarded. The number had risen to 629 in 1958 and to 2,581 in 1967. Graduates at all levels have abundant employment opportuni- ties both in education and industry. Because the engineering doctorate is rela- tively new and consequently postdoctoral work is not traditional, most em- ployers do not expect postdoctoral experience. The "chicken and egg" situ- ation occurs where demand will not occur until there is a supply and vice versa. Finally, the graduate students in engineering tend to carry out their research with notable independence from their supervising professors. Nevertheless, there are some in engineering who would like to see more post- doctoral work in the field. They state that many doctoral programs do not give enough maturity, self-confidence, and impetus to allow graduates to become independent investigators. In addition, a postdoctoral appointment permits the better student another research experience under a different mentor. Fi- nally, they stress the importance of assisting foreign nationals who already pos- sess the doctorate. The situation in mathematics is accented by the highly independent nature of mathematics research. In this purely contemplative discipline the graduate student works very much on his own. Most great innovators in mathematics have been individualists with respect to their work. When a fruitful collabora- tion takes place, the work is still individual. A group exchange of ideas is fol- lowed by periods of solitary study, which are followed in turn by reports to the group or partner. The consequence of this aspect of mathematics for post- doctoral study is that the usual beneficial association of postdoctoral and men- tor occurs much less frequently. Almost inevitably the professor's research is impaired by the attention he must give to the postdoctoral. There are benefits to the young mathematician in postdoctoral study, but these are tempered by pitfalls as well. The postdoctoral appointee is able to learn about new and unsolved problems that are of interest to his new associ- ates at the host university. He is then able to broaden his research outlook and his research program. Frequently he changes it entirely to a more promising or more fertile area in mathematics. The prestige of the appointment and the spending of time at a better institution than his own graduate school can be highly advantageous to him. On the other hand the young PhD may find his own originality and individuality considerably inhibited when he finds him- self in a much more high-powered mathematical group than he was accus- tomed to in graduate school. Thus he may channel his further efforts more along the line of the group's interests than his own, which might have been more fruitful.

OCR for page 143
190 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS From the standpoint of the development of the individual as a potential teacher and leader, the postdoctoral program may possibly be less essential in mathematics than in some other disciplines. The social sciences provide an example of disciplines in transition. Whereas postdoctoral activity immediately following the doctorate has been rare, there is evidence that the situation is changing. The PhD candidate in the social sciences typically works more independently than in the sciences. This is reflected in the higher dropout rate, the longer lapsed time to complete the degree, and the fact that he frequently completes his dissertation in absentia. While the young, able PhD in the social sciences has plenty to learn, he looks upon himself (and is looked upon by his elders) as one who is competent to do independent research, upon receipt of the degree. Consequently, although he may spend a considerable part of his time in the early postdoctoral years mastering new research tools, he perceives him- self as a fully-established member of the profession, and in general he is so regarded within the profession. Whether he immediately accepts a teaching appointment or joins a research term, he will be considered a junior collabo- rator or employee—not a trainee. There are, of course, differences among the social sciences, among subdisciplines within each of the social sciences, and among individuals within each subdiscipline. But even though postdoctoral fellowships are available, it is clear that many of the ablest young PhD's in the social sciences seek to receive a regular academic appointment early, to spend a period in government or industry, or to do a stint abroad, often with the intention of returning to a professorial rank. Many young social scientists have already been employed as full-time faculty for a year or two before they get their PhD's (Table 41, p. 160). While the social scientist is less likely than a scientist to seek a postdoctoral appointment soon after completing his PhD, he is more likely to seek research leave at a later time. Often the social scientist will spend the first few years after completing his PhD preparing his dissertation for publication and initiat- ing a new project. After that he will seek leave to devote time to the new proj- ect. It is apparent that while the able social scientist is always learning and needs free time for research, the needs of social scientists vary, and the immedi- ate postdoctoral appointment is not nearly so common as in the physical and biological sciences. There are several explanations for the differences in attractiveness of the postdoctoral appointment for social scientists as compared to scientists. Many social scientists leave their PhD institutions for teaching positions or positions in industry or government before completing their degrees, despite the efforts of graduate schools to encourage candidates to complete their dissertations in residence. This is possible because in many fields candidates are not tied to their laboratory or library until the final stage of their dissertations. Their

OCR for page 143
191 IMPLICATIONS FOR THE DISCIPLINES motives for leaving are several. Often, they are financial-either the absence of financial support from the graduate school or the prospect of large financial rewards in other employment. It is also true that many social scientists seem to have a greater urge to engage immediately in teaching and that others take positions in government or industry or serve overseas, where they can observe at first hand and can participate in the world of action. For many social scien- tists, the world of affairs is their laboratory and participation in it is their field experience. It is not surprising, therefore, that many men wish to leave the academic world for such experience, either before or shortly after receiving their PhD's. But there remains an important role for the postdoctoral appointment in the social sciences, both in the period immediately after the receipt of the PhD and at a later time. For example, as the social scientist makes greater use of mathe- matical and statistical techniques, provision should be made for training in these techniques for PhD's who did not have access to such training or did not see the need for it during their predoctoral years. Similar opportunities should be made available for those who are working in cross-cultural studies and in ap- plied social sciences problems such as the urban communities, the underprivil- eged, and education. Finally, there is the role of the research centers for more mature and even senior social scientists. The Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the Center for the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto, and the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut are not designed for the recent PhD or for the provision of formal training. Nor are they designed for group research. Rather, their purpose is to provide scholars of various ages with an opportunity for research, reflection, and intellectual exchange with colleagues in the same or related fields. For one fellow it will be an occasion to complete research that is already underway. For another it will be an occasion for reflection or for the starting of a new direction in his research or career. For still others it will be an occasion to study new techniques and approaches often stimulated by others at the center. Many believe that it would be desirable to provide more such opportunities than now exist. We conclude this section by turning to the humanities. There is nothing in the humanities comparable to the extensive and well-established programs for postdoctoral work in the natural sciences. Scholars in the humanities have special opportunities for postdoctoral work through support from a variety of sources, including academic leave. The chief purpose of these forms of support and encouragement is to enable scholars in the humanities to have the free time to pursue their research and the opportunity to use library and other resources to supplement local collections. In contrast to his colleagues in the sciences, the humanistic scholar will rarely elect to spend a period of subsi- dized leave with a distinguished humanist under whose tutelage he will expect

OCR for page 143
192 IMPLICATIONS FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS to grow and to develop. He will rather determine his arrangement on the basis of the resources available in a particular locality for his particular research interests. The differences in postdoctoral activity between the humanities and sci- ence arise not simply from the recognized limitation of financial support in the humanities but from differences in the nature of the disciplines. The pe- riod of significant creative activity seems to occur at different stages in the two disciplines. Many of the most original achievements in science have been produced during the early years of a scientist's career, whereas the most im- pressive accomplishments in humanistic scholarship come later in a scholar's career. A young scientist is eager to continue with his research immediately after he has completed the doctorate. This impulse is encouraged at the present time by the state of scientific activity, the rapid accumulation of knowledge, the increased specialization, and the recondite nature of the art. The magni- tude and complexity of some of the equipment required for many experimen- tal problems combine to increase the desirability of continued early full-time commitment to research along with further training. Such compulsions are largely absent in humanistic scholarship. The young humanistic PhD may feel the urge to publish or to develop some useful discovery or interesting idea arising from his graduate studies but he is at the same time aware that his most important contributions will require maturing and that they lie in the future. In addition, his commitment to teaching is greater and has more bearing on his mature work as a scholar than in the case of the scientist. It is common experience that teaching even undergraduate students provides the catalyst for the humanistic scholar's studies. And, finally, the PhD degree program provides the young humanist with a reasonably good introduction to the meth- ods and resources that he must use in his scholarly research. Team research in the humanities, as in mathematics and in the social sci- ences, is not a characteristic pattern. Of course, group or team projects are not unknown. They arise chiefly in textual studies and editing, in the making of dictionaries, and in certain forms of linguistic studies. Similar enterprises could possibly be organized for special problems in, for instance, history or the history of art. There would certainly be a place in such projects for postdoctoral s who could learn techniques not a part of their graduate training and at the same time advance the work of the project. It has in fact been argued that the humanities have been backward in failing to see all the advantages of group research. It might be applied to many kinds of studies now thought of as pos- sible only by individual mature scholars. Traditional usage may dictate such a process, rather than any limitation inherent in the nature of the study. This view does not at present command general acceptance among scholars. One reason for the success of the postdoctoral appointment in science is that both the postdoctoral and his mentor profit from the arrangement. It is not yet

OCR for page 143
193 SUMMARY clear how, in all but very special cases, the relations between the young scholar in the humanities and the mentor can promote equally the interests of both. Any complete review of postdoctoral activity has to take into account the special relationship between the new PhD and the scholarly needs of the entire profession. In the humanities it must take into account the strong commitment to teaching of the humanistic scholar, his special need for breadth, and his dis- tinctive pattern of professional growth, which often results in his finest work being accomplished during his middle and late years. For some the critical situ- ation comes after several years of teaching and successful research when the need for greater breadth becomes apparent. Since much humanistic scholarship is by its nature interdisciplinary, the need to acquire competence in a new dis- cipline or field of knowledge may become pressing. Both teaching and scholar- ship would profit from giving such men the opportunity for freedom and mate- rials that they desire. Even the mature scholar, during what might be his most productive years, faces problems in finding support for his studies. He is not in the same position as his scientific colleagues with their sponsored research activity, summer stipends, and postdoctoral assistants. The distinctive pattern of postdoctoral study in the sciences has grown up in response to the character of the entire scientific activity and its needs. An effective postdoctoral program in the humanities must similarly be responsive to the distinctive character of the work of humanistic scholars and the conse- quent diversity of their needs. Such an approach would provide the best basis for supplementing the relatively meager and uncoordinated sources of finan- cial support available to scholars in the humanities at various stages in their careers following the doctorate. Summary The impact of postdoctoral education on the universities has been great in the relatively few that are deeply involved and it has been minimal in others. Three points of contact with postdoctoral education are closely correlated. These are the production of PhD's who take postdoctoral appointments, the hosting of postdoctorals, and the recruiting of former postdoctorals as faculty. It is not accidental that the same universities that are accorded the highest reputations are also committed to the values of postdoctoral study. The development of postdoctoral study at all levels must take into account the intrinsic nature of the field and must be responsive to the particular needs of the field. The present pattern of involvement in postdoctoral activity among the fields is partially understood in these terms. In some fields the lack of financial support has inhibited the full development of postdoctoral opportu- nities appropriate to those fields.